Nutrition Video Series: Why I Don't Recommend Keto to Athletes

In this week’s video, I’m talking about the ketogenic diet and why I don’t recommend it to athletes. Let’s take a look at what it is, the current research, and potential side effects. You can read more about the keto diet and the research in my interviews here with Prevention Magazine and Everyday Health.

What it is: 

The Ketogenic diet or ‘keto’ is very high fat (75%+ total calories), moderate protein (20%), & very low carb (5%). Recommended carb intake per day is <20 g. Which is less than just 1 banana, 1 apple, or 1 sweet potato. The Ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s as a way to treat children for epilepsy. Along with the benefit it has with epilepsy, it’s also shown beneficial in neurodegenerative diseases, and weight loss/body fat loss in obese and overweight adults. Research shows that while fat loss occurs with keto, so does lean muscle mass loss.

Athletes:

There’s currently no substantial evidence that the keto diet improves athletic performance vs. a diet higher in carbohydrates; while there is an abundance of research showing the benefits carbohydrates have on improving athletic performance. Keto could potentially be applicable for athletes such as ultra-runners performing at moderate pace for long-duration, but is shown to have a negative impact in athletes performing at high intensities. With the limitations on protein, this could also make it challenging for some to maximize strength and muscle gains.

Potential Side Effects:

Brain fog, fatigue, headaches, nausea, constipation, muscle loss, increased cholesterol, and the negative impact it could have psychologically, or on social life. For some, this diet is achievable long-term. But for many, it’s very restrictive and could promote disordered eating habits with obsessive tracking of grams, macros, never allowing yourself to ‘splurge’ on anything containing carbs or sugar in fear of knocking you out of ketosis. Also, slipping up on this diet can backfire your progress greatly as now you’re out of ketosis and on a very high fat diet.

Takeaways:

Weight loss is likely to occur at the start. Decreasing carbohydrates results in loss of water weight. While yes weight loss is likely to occur, research is mixed on whether or not the keto diet leads to greater fat losses when compared to high carb, and when you compare low-fat vs. low-carb diets, total pounds loss tends to even out at about 12 months. This usually comes down to the fact it’s an overall calorie reduction (less food options to consume typically = less total calories consumed)

While yes it can promote weight loss, there are several other methods to losing weight successfully that don’t involve restricting entire food groups, counting every last carb, counting your % fat & protein daily, & being limited to meat, dairy, eggs, avocado, coconut, & low carb vegetables.

For those of you who have found success eating keto - great! Really glad you found something that works for you. But if you think just because this diet works for you it must work for everyone, then you are just as ignorant as the people who say this diet won’t work for anyone.

Watch my 2-minute video on the Ketogenic diet below!